Karen Crum has a doctoral degree in Public Health and Preventive Care. She holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Health Science with an emphasis in health psychology. She is a Certified Health Education Specialist.
Dr. Crum promotes the health and well-being of children with autism and mental illness. She has developed and presented programs to support special-needs children, and currently focuses on educating and supporting parents as they care for their children with social, emotional or behavior challenges.
Dr. Crum is an educational and inspirational speaker with many years of experience working with children and their families. Her passion lies in two areas:
- Training parents, professionals and the community to understand children with autism, mental illness, and other social, emotional or behavioral challenges.
- Helping both caregivers and affected children develop wellness, long-term coping skills, and a joyful Christ-centered life.
As the parent of two children with neurobiological conditions, Karen’s priorities have always centered on caring for her family, and she has first-hand insight into the challenges families face. She has been a home-schooling mom. Karen excels in inspiring hope, perspective, and skill development in parents and professionals who feel weary or overwhelmed.
Karen’s newest mission includes her work with a Christian focus. Dr. Crum is the author of Persevering Parent: Finding Strength to Raise Your Child with Social, Emotional or Behavior Challenges. This book points to God’s truths and to practical and spiritual principles that enhance hope, joy and effective special-needs parenting.
In addition to leading Persevering Parent support groups, in her community Karen served as the Coordinator of Youth Programs for the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) and was on the Mental Health Services Act Advisory Committee. She is a teacher and California state trainer for the NAMI Basics signature education and support program for parents of children with mental illness. In 2002, Karen founded SLATE (Successful Living with Autism through Training and Education) which is a non-profit program of Rowell Family Empowerment of Northern California. SLATE serves children with autism spectrum disorders and their families by educating parents, professionals, and paraprofessionals, and by providing direct social–emotional training to more than 100 children each year.
Karen has written for or contributed to publications including: Focus on the Family’s Thriving Family Magazine, Homeschooling the Child with Autism: Answers to the Top Questions Parents and Professionals Ask (Jossey-Bass Books), Key Ministry/Not Alone Blog, SLATE Model Manual: California Department of Developmental Services (DDS), Autism Epicenter blog, and a women’s devotional calendar. .
Karen has been honored with the following awards: Excellence in Public Health, Developmental Asset Champion, Soroptomist’s Nomination for Women Who Make a Difference, Silver Ribbon Award for Contributions to Families and Children with Special Needs, and the Loma Linda University Dean’s Award for Outstanding Doctoral Graduate in Public Health. Although Karen appreciates these honors, she answers to God and is most inspired by His commendations.
About Social, Emotional and Behavioral Challenges in Children
Social, emotional or behavioral challenges in children are broadly defined as anything that interferes with a child’s social success, emotional regulation or functional behavioral responses. Some children with these challenges have no diagnosable condition or disorder, but just seem to develop at a different rate in one or more of these areas. Others progress into problems that benefit from professional help.
Children who demonstrate certain symptoms or behavioral characteristics may be diagnosed as having a particular disorder or condition. Getting a diagnosis just means that a number of other children have demonstrated similar behaviors, and for ease of identification and treatment, a name has been put on the group of symptoms. Although many parents fear their child will be labeled once a diagnosis is made, the process can be helpful because it gives parents and professionals a direction to get started with treatments or therapies that have been shown to help others with similar behaviors.
It is important to know that many disorders that in the past were considered to be psychological in nature are now known to have biological origins. These are considered neurobiological conditions. For example, although everyone can feel sad or depressed from time to time, especially after a sad or traumatic event, depression that continues or recurs is often caused by a chemical imbalance or structural difference in the brain. Other brain differences can cause autism, chronic anxiety, extreme mood changes, disruptions in logical thought, and impulsive or inattentive behavior.
Some common neurobiological disorders that affect children include attention deficit disorders, anxiety disorders including obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder and social anxiety disorder; depression and bipolar disorder. Neurobiological disorders considered to be developmental disabilities are autism spectrum disorders, seizure disorder, Tourettes and intellectual disabilities. Other rare disorders also fit into this category.
Parenting and Neurobiological Disorders
In general, it is important to understand that neurobiological disorders are not caused by poor parenting. Although poor parenting can contribute to depression and anxiety in children, and abuse can contribute to more serious conditions, the origins of most neurobiological disorders are unrelated to parenting. Research has yet to pinpoint the cause of many neurobiological disorders, but there are theories undergoing evaluation. Most theories point to genetic and immunologic factors. Like many medical conditions, neurobiological disorders may have a genetic component that predisposes a person, but it is likely an immune stressor (due to viral or environmental toxins) or trauma-induced event (physical or psychological) that triggers noticeable symptoms.
Although most parents do not cause their child’s social, emotional or behavior challenges, they are certainly responsible for raising their children well in spite of the circumstances. One reason the Persevering Parent book and website exists is to help parents adjust to parenting a child who behaves differently than expected and to learn ways to be hopeful, positive and resourceful so they can help their
Treatment for Neurobiological Disorders
Research has identified that the most effective medical intervention for many neurobiological disorders such as depression, bipolar and anxiety is the combination of medication and talk therapy. Medication has actually been shown to cause brain cells to grow and to function better when properly prescribed for some disorders. Talk therapy can help people learn to cope with their disorder and to develop ways to compensate. It can help people with neurobiological disorders solve problems more effectively and may help someone set up a system of accountability, a schedule or plan for healthy behaviors, and skills to develop relationships with understanding and helpful people. Over time, engagement in talk therapy can stimulate new brain connections that develop in response to learning new coping skills.
Other treatments for certain mental disorders include neurotherapy, trans-cranial magnetic stimulation, and others. Exercise and good nutritional habits also can make a big difference in optimizing brain health.
Treatment for autism and other developmental disorders will be somewhat different than for conditions considered mental illness (ie. mood disorders, anxiety and others), although some of the same medications are used for both. Autism treatment also involves provided structured environments and teaching for children to learn and grow.
For more information about diagnoses of neurobiological conditions in childhood, current research on treatments, or for parenting tips, the following organizations and websites may be helpful:
- National Institute of Mental Health www.nimh.nih.gov
- Centers for Disease Control www.cdc.gov
- National Alliance on Mental Illness www.nami.org
- Kids Mental Health www.kidsmentalhealth.org
- Children’s Mental Heath Network www.childrensmentalhealthnetwork.com
- Child Mind www.childmind.org
- Balanced Mind Foundation (mood disorders) www.balancedmindfoundation.org
- Autism Speaks www.autismspeaks.com